Rwanda opposition says unable to find lawyer for Kagame legal challenge

Rwandan President Paul Kagame attends a press conference with Ethiopia's Prime Minister at the National Palace in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on April 16, 2015. Kagame is in Ethiopia to visit some industrial sites as well as to attend the Tana High Level Forum in Bahir Dar city. AFP PHOTO / Zacharias Abubeker (AFP Photo/Zacharias Abubeker)

Kigali (AFP) - Rwanda's Green Party, the country's tiny but main opposition, complained Wednesday it was having trouble finding a lawyer to handle its challenge to moves to allow President Paul Kagame stand for a third term.

The Rwandan constitution, which was adopted in 2003, limits the number of presidential terms to two, and therefore bars Kagame -- who was elected first in 2003 and again in 2010 -- to stand for a third term.

But officials last month said parliament would soon debate a change to the constitution in response to what Kagame's aides have described as "popular demand" for the strongman and former rebel leader to stay.

The Green Party has vowed to challenge this in court, but said it was being hampered by the reluctance of lawyers to take up the case.

"Five lawyers have refused to take the case. One said he was threatened, another said God was against it, others said they were afraid or did not want to go to court against millions of Rwandans," party president Frank Habineza told AFP.

Habineza said the challenge centred on the Green Party's belief that the constitution can only be revised to "reduce or prolong the duration of the president's mandate."

Kagame, 57, has been at the helm since 1994, when an offensive by his ethnic Tutsi rebel force, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), put an end to a genocide by Hutu extremists in which an estimated 800,000 people were massacred, the vast majority of them Tutsis.

He first served as defence minister and vice president, and then took the presidency by winning 95 percent of the vote. He was re-elected with a similarly resounding mandate.

Rwandan officials have strongly denied that it is Kagame who is angling for a third term, insisting that the president -- hailed by his supporters as a guarantor of post-genocide security and stability, as well as a champion of economic development -- enjoys popular support for him to stay.